RIVER ORB: This creative shot on the Clarence river wonderfully captures a bright sunset.
RIVER ORB: This creative shot on the Clarence river wonderfully captures a bright sunset. Jahn Lenehan

Future CV: Avoid 'cookie cutter' riverside revamp

IT MAY be happening a little later than other parts of the world, but the Valley is turning back towards the Clarence River.

With most of the Maclean riverside development completed, $6.5 million in funding promised for Grafton's and $1 million set aside for Ulmarra, there is renewed effort - spearheaded by Clarence Valley Council - to get the community back to the river.

Developments such as these are about more than building a nice place to walk. They represent a shift in focus, and Western Sydney University lecturer Dr Cameron McAuliffe said it was happening everywhere.

"Across the world there is a recognition that cities have an opportunity to redevelop their waterfronts," Dr McAuliffe said.

"For instance, in Parramatta they are trying to turn the city back to the river because it was built with its back to the river as it was the transport corridor - it was not the sight of romance and recreation."

It was a similar case in the Clarence where the river - once seen as just an industrial artery - was undergoing a long (and expensive) process to reintegrate civic space with the river.

Avoiding the 'cookie cutter' approach

Redevelopment along the river needed to be unique as well as offering something to locals and tourists alike and the community should be wary of a "build it and they will come" mentality.

The senior lecturer in human geography and urban studies, Dr McAuliffe, explained the the key question was "what is the relationship now and what can it become?" and the processes at work involved broader movements "toward urban beautification".

"This is also about capturing the aesthetic appeal of places, rethinking the economy and re-visioning the city as a destination," he said.

"Turning back to the river is not just about erasing the past, you are looking to keep the heritage."

There have been discussions about incorporating the industrial history of Grafton - complete with classic images of train carriages on boats - into a walk over the Grafton bridge and it was ideas such as these which would go some way to creating something unique.

Dr McAullife warned against the "cookie cutter" approach and emphasised the need for the community to have "influence at the local level to render it distinctive."

Activating space

There has been significant importance put on the need to build on the river and Clarence Valley mayor Jim Simmons has been vocal in his support for pontoons to enable more activities on the water.

"It is a tremendous river - the commercial centres would do well with the pontoons available and there are plenty of spots along the river that would really benefit from some more," Cr Simmons said.

"Our waterways are underutilised, but we are starting to see the Clarence used a little more - we recently had one group of 20 yachts (Shag Islet Cruising Yacht Club in May) come down from all areas north of here."

Open water swimming and floating pools had also been on the agenda in big cities, with groups pushing for structures on the Yarra in Melbourne and on the Thames in London.

Swimming spots such as these could become places for people to congregate, swim and socialise along the river and could be especially effective if placed in areas which enabled people to watch the sunset over the water.

Gold Coast Council has been particularly proactive with its use of protected swimming areas - due to the prevalence of bull sharks - and offer a number options in their LGA.

Work had also started on a "sea lido" at Urunga, in Bellingen Shire, which featured a 40- metre jetty with two floating pontoons 25-metres apart which facilitated and encouraged open air lap swimming.

Importantly, installations such as these were not simply passive, but enabled and encouraged active engagement with the river.

Front photo courtesy of Jahn Lenehan

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